How Aminé helped provide the soundtrack for a somber transition in U.S. politics.
Jasmine Albertson revisits 2016 with the track “Caroline” by Aminé. This rapper from Portland helped provide the soundtrack for a somber transition in U.S. politics.
Written by Jasmine Albertson.
Audio production by Roddy Nikpour.
Listen to a conversation with Aminé on KEXP’s Sound & Vision podcast: https://www.kexp.org/podcasts/sound-vision/2020/8/27/amines-love-hate-relationship-portland-and-its-backdoor-racism/
Support the podcast: kexp.org/50hiphop
Read a transcript below.
2016 started out as a good year. For the past eight years, we’d had a Black man for president who, for all accounts, was good, fair, and kind and it really seemed like the country could only progress from there. But over the course of the election cycle, our optimism shattered as we saw demonstrable hate come out of the man who could, and eventually would, become our new leader. We grasped to what we could, “There’s no way he’ll win!” But the prickly feeling of it as a possibility hovered over us the entire year and then broke on November 9th when our worst fears came to reality. Perhaps that’s why the song we grasped to that summer was the sunshiney, carefree, completely non-political ode to love, “Caroline.”
Overall, 2016 was an absolutely bangin' year for music. According to comedian and musician James Acaster in his book Perfect Sound Whatever, it was’s actually the BEST year of music. And it’s difficult to argue with that. We had Beyonce’s Lemonade, Frank Ocean’s BLONDE, And David Bowie’s Blackstar, his final record before his devastating death that year. Notable names ruled in 2016. But the most unlikely song that filled our ears came from an otherwise unknown rising hip-hop artist from Portland named Aminé.
“Caroline” hits all the marks of a perfect summer jam. As KEXP’s Martin Douglas stated in an episode of Sound & Vision last year where we broke down 2022’s anticipated summer jams, one of the hallmarks of a quintessential one is that it can be bumped in the car with the windows down while rolling with the homies. “Caroline” hits this mark and then some. Bouncy, catchy, and a little bit raunchy, the song is pure, unadulterated joy.
Inspired by OutKast’s “Roses” in name, Aminé aimed to make a modern-day “Billie Jean.” He proclaims his love (or perhaps just infatuation) with a woman he just can’t get enough of, with comparisons to Beyonce and the actress Meagan Good, describing this girl as a “Bad thing.” She’s fine as hell with a body that won’t quit and Amine wants to do some very dirty things with her. I do love when a rapper extolls nothing but praise for a woman. Granted, I may not be on board with “getting gory like a Tarantino movie in the bedroom,” but I’m not gonna yuck anyone’s yum.
The song hit the masses hard, despite the censors working overtime for radio play. “Caroline” reached number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and eventually went five times platinum. The track got Aminé signed to Republic Records, and he even landed a spot performing on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon. This is an incredible feat for anyone but especially for an artist who was essentially unknown before dropping the track. Amine also comes from a place where hip hop is not exactly known to thrive — Portland, Oregon.
When one thinks of Portland their mind often goes to indie bands like The Decemberists, The Shins, and, of course, Elliott Smith. Still, Portland has a lot to offer in the way of hip-hop. Local acts like U-Krew, Five Fingers of Funk, Lifesavas, Cool Nutz, and the Last Artful, Dodger have gotten traction over the years. Aminé continues that legacy of artists, keeping Portland on the hip-hop radar.
However, racism and underrepresentation of minorities in the city have held back hip-hop artists from commercial success. Just last year, The Seattle Times wrote an article titled 'Portland is still the whitest big city in America,' with 66.4% of the population identifying as non-Hispanic white in 2020. The history of Oregon is bleak, to say the least. It imposed extreme exclusionary laws post-slavery that prohibited Black people from living in the state until the ratification of the 14th Amendment in 1868.
This set into motion a century and a half of discrimination in housing, jobs, and education, making the city an incredibly unfriendly place for minorities like Aminé.
Aminé was born Adam Aminé Daniel, and is the first-generation child of Ethiopian and Eritrean immigrants. At home, he spoke Amharic and listened to Ethiopian music. Every summer, Aminé escaped the racism he experienced in Portland to be in New York. He spent time with like-minded musicians and interned at music magazines and labels. Now, he lives in Los Angeles, as one often does when they have a multi-platinum record.
Before he released the album Good For You, Aminé had dropped a number of mixtapes and EPs, most of them scrubbed from the internet. I could only track down two on Soundcloud 2014’s Odyssey To Me and 2015’s Calling Brio. Good For You features collaborations with some big names like Ty Dolla $ign, Nelly, and Offset. This year, he's set to release a highly-anticipated collaborative record with Kaytranada, aptly titled with the portmanteau Kaytramine.
“Caroline” is about as far as you can get from a political track. Still, in January 2017, Amine used his performance on Jimmy Fallon to address the then-newly-elected President of the United States. Accompanied by a six-piece string orchestra and floating backing vocals, Aminé tacks on an extra verse, admonishing Trump: “You can never make America great again /All you ever did was make this country hate again.”
And with that, a new chapter began for U.S. politics — and for hip-hop.